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Dance

Anthony Then

A key figure in Singapore's classical ballet scene

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

I want my choreography to be rich in movement—pure dance movement showing the discipline and the technicality of the dance. The dancers, too, have to be perfect in their execution and project emotion.

Singapore dancer and choreographer Anthony Then is a key figure in the classical ballet scene in Singapore. He was an accomplished dancer who performed with European ballet companies, whose talent and vision for the formation of a national dance company led to the establishment of Singapore Dance Theatre. Under his leadership, the Singapore Dance Theatre grew to become Singapore’s premiere professional dance company. His passing in 1995 was a lament for the dance scene in Singapore, but his legacy lives on in his works and the success of the Singapore Dance Theatre.

Born in 1944 in Singapore, Anthony Then grew up in a family of five siblings with parents who were fans of Latin, ballroom, and rock and roll music, and who especially loved dancing the tango. This infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on Anthony who, in his teenage years, taught himself how to play the piano, accordion, harmonica, castanets, maracas and tambourine. Anthony and his siblings often danced at their parents’ request for visiting friends, but it was not until Anthony discovered mambo music that his passion for dance grew stronger.

Anthony’s first experience of the stage was in St. Joseph’s Institution as a member of the Literary, Debating and Dramatic Society. At the society’s annual concerts, Anthony would regularly perform together with his sister, Yvonne. By that time, Anthony could also tap-dance, and that—together with the rhythms of latin dance so loved by his parents—fuelled his interest in dance.

His sister, Yvonne, enrolled in the Singapore Ballet Academy and when Anthony was 14, he followed in his sister’s footsteps, studying under Vernon Martinez, Frances Poh and Goh Soo Nee. He would go on to progress much further at the academy and received a bursary to continue his training. He remained at the academy for over 6 years, training alongside peers such as Goh Soo Khim, Goh Choo San, Patricia Hon, and Francis Yeoh.

Following his time at the academy, Anthony began a short-lived career in architecture as a draughtsman—something his parents thought would make a useful profession as he had a talent for Art in secondary school. But ballet beckoned him again when he was offered a scholarship by the Ballet Rambert (now known as the Rambert Dance Company) in London, UK. His parents, realising that Anthony’s heart lay in dance, gave him their blessing and Anthony moved to the UK.

Anthony graduated from the Ballet Rambert, and had stints as a dancer with the Scottish Ballet and London’s Western Theatre Ballet in the UK, and Bremen Ballet Company in the 1960s. When his brief dancing career was put on hold due to a knee injury, he turned towards choreology with further training at the Institute of Choreology in London. To support himself financially in the meantime, Anthony also waited on tables, modelled and worked as a part-time actor with roles in TV shows like The Rolf Harris Show and Doctor Who and movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

In 1977, Anthony’s Singapore Ballet Academy schoolmate Francis Yeoh recommended Anthony for the position of Director and Choreographer of the Song and Dance Section of the Neptune Theatre in Singapore. Anthony accepted the offer and returned to Singapore, and would take the reins of the Neptune Theatre’s performances for the next three years. Anthony adapted his ballet and choreography training and stage performance knowledge for the Neptune Theatre to create a complete entertainment production that included singers and other performers. These performances drew a regular audience, and his reputation as a dance choreographer grew in the Singapore dance scene—so much so that he was also sought after as a fashion show choreographer. Throughout his time at the Neptune, Anthony never lost touch with ballet, and spent some time as a guest ballet teacher at the Singapore Ballet Academy, now under the leadership of his academy schoolmate Goh Soo Khim.

In 1980, Anthony moved to the USA to be the ballet master of the Nevada Ballet Theatre, returning to Singapore in 1982 when his mother passed away. Anthony went on to find work teaching ballet in Singapore and Europe for the next few years, until his father’s passing in 1985 brought him back to Singapore again. Anthony would remain in Singapore, and the idea to collaborate with Goh Soo Khim to form a professional dance company began to develop.

Anthony and Goh Soo Khim would eventually become co-artistic directors of the Ballet Group within the National Dance Company. Encouraged by the progress of the company, the duo set out on their own and formed Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) in 1988, becoming the founding co-artistic directors.

Under their leadership, the SDT pursued a vision to perform a wide repertoire of international works, while nurturing budding choreographers. Anthony created original ballet choreography for the SDT, and also invited choreographers of international renown to guide the dancers, believing that they could only benefit from the exposure to a wide range of work. With the SDT, Anthony found personal and professional satisfaction, growing the Singapore dance scene while fulfilling his passion for choreography.

A perfectionist who watched productions twice—first, to notice the accomplishments, and then to take note of its flaws—Anthony was a well-respected dance practitioner who pushed towards perfection of the dance form.

In 1995, Anthony passed away, leaving behind a saddened dance community and his dance legacy. His works, Concerto for VII (1989) and Schumann Impressions (1990), as well as his re-conceptualisation of the full-length The Nutcracker (1992 and 1994) remain in SDT’s repertoire.

Timeline

16 Jun 1944

Born in Singapore.

1958 to 1964

Trained at the Singapore Ballet Academy.

1964

Awarded honours (intermediate) and highly commended (advanced), Royal Academy of Dancing Examination.

1965

Received a one-year scholarship from the Rambert Ballet (now known as the Rambert Dance Company)..

1966

Joined the Scottish Ballet, UK.

1967

Joined the Western Theatre Ballet, London, UK.

1968

Joined the Bremen Ballet Company, Germany.

1969

Trained at the Institute of Choreology, London, UK.

1970 to 1975

Worked at the Institute of Choreology, London, UK.

1975

Head, Jazz Faculty, Institute of Choreology, London, UK.

1977

Director and choreographer, Song and Dance Section, Neptune Theatre, Singapore.

1981

Ballet master, Nevada Dance Theatre, USA.

1982

Guest choreographer, Neptune Theatre, Singapore.

1983

Artistic director and choreographer, Singapore Ballet Academy.

1984

Co-artistic director, Ballet Group, National Dance Company.

Original choreography – Variations on a Theme.Original choreography – Variations on a Theme.

1988

Co-founder, Singapore Dance Theatre.

1988 to 1995

Co-artistic director, Singapore Dance Theatre.

1988

Original choreography – Concerto for VII.

1990

Original choreography – Schumann Impressions..

1992

Original full-length choreography –The Nutcracker.

16 Dec 1995

Passed away at age 51 in Singapore.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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